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Sunday, November 20, 2011

NIgeria Settles in for a Long Guerrilla War With Boko Haram

Boko Haram: Fighting guerrilla warfare the unusual way

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Written by STEPHEN GBADAMOSI and BANJI ALUKO
Sunday, 20 November 2011
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Mohammed Yusuf, slain Nigerian sect leader

Despite Federal Government’s consistent insistence that the Boko Haram problem would soon be a thing of the past, the group has continued to do damage to the lives and property of both the lowly and the mighty.


THAT the problem of Boko Haram started in Nigeria as a religious sect issue is no longer news. That the Federal Government is seemingly lacking in the ability to contain the rampaging group is also no longer news. But if there appears a practicable solution to the menace that sprang up in lethal attacks against Nigerians of all persuasion a couple of years ago, many would describe it as welcomed news.

Critics of the Goodluck Jonathan-led government have said at every given opportunity that the approach it deploys to tackle the sect that has murdered hundreds of people in cold blood is less than desirable. Such critics are quick to argue that members of the sect usually come out to detonate bomb and disappear into thin air or send a suicide bomber who dies with his victims, with both options making it difficult for security operatives to trail perpetrators.

Thus, many analysts are contending that apart from relying on detailed intelligence gathering, possibly by the use of secret agents and spies, the Federal Government would also need to see the Boko Haram fight as a guerrilla war and borrow a leaf from the book of countries that have witnessed such development which is now commonly referred to as insurgency.

Anytime guerrilla warfare is mentioned in Nigeria, the images that readily come to mind are far and distant. For decades, radio broadcast news of guerrilla warfare in distant countries such as the Mujahideen fighters in Afghanistan, the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka, FARC rebels in Colombia and the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA) rebels in Angola. For decades, stories of armed civilians attacking institutions of government such as the police and the military, striking vulnerable targets, throwing bombs at government facilities and killing people were major headlines on the pages of newspapers and ‘World News’ on radio and television stations.

Although Nigeria has had its fair share of crisis, culminating in a civil war between 1967 and 1970, still no occurrence of insurgent fighters attacking people or agents of government was reported in the country.

How it started

Even when Boko Haram, which official name is Jama’atu Ahlis Sunna Lidda’awati wal-Jihad, attacked policemen in Maiduguri, capital of Borno State, in July 2009, many believed that the altercation was only between the police and an angry mob protesting alleged killing of its members by the police. Prior to this, members of the Boko Haram were only known to residents of Borno, Yobe, Bauchi states and other parts of the North East.

Although the sect had shown signs that it was set out to question constituted authorities, through its clandestine activities, many did not believe that the organisation would threaten to bring the nation down if its condition to Islamise the nation and to release its members arrested by government is not met.

The attack on policemen in Maiduguri in July 2009 was, indeed, a climax of activities that started a couple of years before that. Founder of the sect, Ustaz Mohammed Yusuf, was reported to have enrolled children from poor families from states in the North and neighbouring countries to serve as a recruiting centre for jihadis to fight the Nigerian state. Mohammed was said to have established a camp in 2004 in Kanamma, Yobe State, where he set up a base called “Afghanistan” used to attack nearby police outposts and killing policemen. In Bauchi, the group was reported as refusing to mix with the local people.

But since the July 2009 attack, more heart-shattering and heinous crimes, including the November 4, 2011 attack on the Yobe State police headquarters and the 2011 New Year Eve bombing in Abuja, have been attributed to the dreaded Islamic sect. In the former attack, more than 100 people were reported dead, while the latter also claimed scores of others.

Others attacks, mostly bombings, that Boko Haram claimed responsibilities for were the June 17 suicide bombing of the garage of the Abuja headquarters of the Nigeria Police; the August 26 bombing of the Abuja headquarters of the United Nations (UN) building by a suicide car bomber, leaving at least 21 dead and dozens more injured; and the assassination of Borno State governorship candidate of the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) alongside his brother, four policemen and a 12-year-old boy.

... and now, guerrilla warfare

Now, with the sustained attack on the nation by members of the Boko Haram, the question on the lips of many discerning Nigerians is, has guerrilla warfare finally landed in Nigeria? Closely related to this is, has Nigeria joined the list of countries such as Angola, Sri Lanka, Russia, Colombia and Cuba who battled insurgent fighters for a very long time?

Sources told Sunday Tribune during the week that what the country is experiencing with the Boko Haram challenge, though, might be politically-motivated, has already snowballed into guerrilla warfare.

Former Minister of Interior, Mr. Abba Moro, pathetically, admitted that what the nation has in its hands might not be different from what the governments of Angola, Sri Lanka and Colombia battled for a good part of their post-independence years and that the modus operandi of Boko Haram was not different from that of the guerrilla fighters.

He said, “they engage in guerrilla warfare, running away after each attack and making it difficult for security men to get them, but it doesn’t mean that they are winning the battle. Government is on top of the situation and very soon, the attacks would stop.”

According to The Encyclopedia Britannica, guerrilla warfare is a “type of warfare fought by irregulars in fast-moving, small-scale actions against orthodox military and police forces and, on occasion, against rival insurgent forces, either independently or in conjunction with a larger political-military strategy.”

Che Guevara, the Argentine Marxist, also provided the reasons guerrilla fighters fight. According to him, “we must come to the inevitable conclusion that the guerrilla fighter is a social reformer, that he takes up arms responding to the angry protest of the people against their oppressors, and that he fights in order to change the social system that keeps all his unarmed brothers in ignominy and misery.”

Informed sources described guerrilla warfare as “a form of irregular warfare which refers to conflicts in which a small group of combatants including, but not limited to, armed civilians (or “irregulars”) use military tactics, such as ambushes, sabotage, raids, the element of surprise and extraordinary mobility, to harass a larger and less-mobile traditional army, or strike a vulnerable target and withdraw almost immediately.

“The term means “little war” in Spanish, and the word, guerrilla, has been used to describe the concept since the 18th century, and perhaps earlier.”

It has also been said that theories of some past leaders of insurgent group act as propelling force for such groups today. People like Mao Zedong (Mao Tse Tung) of the Chinese Civil War, T. E. Lawrence (aka Lawrence of Arabia), Ireland’s Michael Collins, Abdul Haris Nasution and Ernesto “Che” Guevara de la Serna, among others are figures whose doctrines propel guerrillas.

Recently, an online news agency traced the leadership of Boko Haram to a former president of Mauritania who was ousted by military putsch. Mauritania is an Islamic country which also has a history of strife alongside its neighbor, Morocco.

Morocco/Mauritania experience

History has it that Morocco and the Polisario Front once contested the Western Sahara, a 266,000-square kilometre territory in the Northwest corner of Africa. Named by the United Nations (UN) in 1975, the desert area was formerly a Spanish colony (1884-1976), known in the West as the Spanish Sahara. Spain handed over administrative authority to Morocco and Mauritania in a November 1975 tripartite agreement. Morocco’s claims were said to be based on the desire to restore the boundaries of the Almoravid Empire of the 11-12th centuries. Morocco also saw Spain’s withdrawal as the continuation of the gradual decolonisation of Morocco, which would not be complete until Spain also gave up Ceuta and Melilla, the two remaining Spanish enclaves in Northern Morocco. The day after Spain withdrew from the territory in 1976, the Popular Front for the Liberation of the Saguia el Hamra and Rio de Oro (POLISARIO) was said to have proclaimed the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) as a government in exile, and initiated a guerrilla war against Morocco and Mauritania.

Records have it that King Hassan of Morocco responded by sending in troops. The area was noted as valuable, not only because of its natural resources, but also as a bargaining chip in North African geopolitics. Despite the UN attempts to resolve the conflict, the Western Sahara remained the only unresolved colonial dispute in Africa. And its characteristics of guerrilla fighting appear stuck. In September of 2008 alone, Islamic extremists killed not less than 12 soldiers in Mauritania.

Also, last Sunday, the Algerian government was reported to have announced that it had “credible intelligence” that Boko Haram had linked up with al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), a group said to have its North African headquarters in Algeria.

Deputy Foreign Minister of the North African country, Abdelkader Messahel, was quoted to have told journalists that intelligence report showed both groups had been coordinating.

“We have no doubts that coordination exists between Boko Haram and al-Qaeda,” Messahel reportedly said.

In view of this, when security experts considered that Afganistan is a hotbed of the dreaded al-Qaeda, what a journalists with the Toronto Sun newspaper, Eric Margolis, suggested recently seems to become necessary to be looked into by countries facing insurgency like Nigeria.

Margolis was quoted as asking, “doesn’t anyone remember the Vietnam War’s fruitless search and destroy missions and inflated body counts? Don’t NATO commanders know their every move is telegraphed in advance to Taliban forces? Don’t they see what’s going on now in Iraq?

“Did Canadian officers making such fanciful claims really believe Taliban’s veteran guerillas would be stupid enough to sit still and be destroyed by US air power? Now, Canadian-led NATO forces are crowing about having finally occupied Panjewi. ‘Taliban has fled!’ they proudly announced. Don’t they understand that guerilla forces don’t hang on to fixed positions? Occupying ground is meaningless in guerilla warfare.”

It has been contended that the alarm raised by the journalist is a replica of what some Nigerians have been saying concerning the Federal Government’s stance that Boko Haram would soon fizzle out, as well as such statement as Boko Haram constitutes no threat to investors. Some see this development as trivialising the security challenge posed by the sect, a method thought to be inimical to achievement of success in the crisis.

And examining the definition given by the encyclopeadia and the reasons guerrilla fighters fight, given by Che Guevara, it might not be wrong to say that the Boko Haram movement has the features of guerrilla fighters that some countries of the world have battled and that some are still battling.

Sri Lanka’s 26 years of guerrilla war

In Sri Lanka, for example, the on-and-off insurgency against the government by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (Tamil Tigers) lasted for 26 years before the Sri Lankan military defeated the Tamil Tigers in May 2009. With an estimated 80,000 to 100,000 killed, the insurgency brought hardship to the population, environment and the economy of Sri Lanka. The tactics employed by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam resulted in their being branded terrorists.

The root of the conflict dates back to British colonial rule when the country was known as Ceylon. A nationalist political movement from Sinhalese communities arose in the country in the early 20th century with the aim of obtaining political independence, which was eventually granted by the British after peaceful negotiations in 1948. Disagreements between the Sinhalese and Tamil ethnic communities flared up when drawing up the country’s first post-independence constitution.

Why guerrilla warfare?

Looking back in time, it would be discovered that since World War II, guerrilla warfare has been employed by nationalist groups to overthrow colonialism; by dissidents to launch civil wars and by communist and Western powers in the cold war. There have been dozens of such conflicts. Thus, the Nigerian example of Boko Haram can be said to fit into number two.

US’ tango with guerrilla fighters

Just after World War, II large-scale guerrilla warfare broke out in Indochina between the French and the communist Viet Minh, led by Ho Chi Minh and Vo Nguyen Giap. After the French defeat at Dienbienphu in 1945, France withdrew from the conflict; but the 1954 Geneva conference was believed to have brought no permanent peace, and communist guerrilla activities continued in Laos, Cambodia and South Vietnam.

In the subsequent Vietnam War, the United States fought in support of the South Vietnamese government against local guerrillas, Viet Cong, aided by North Vietnamese troops. In Cambodia, the Khmer Rouge waged guerrilla warfare to win control of the nation and after being ousted by the Vietnamese army, again, resorted to it until the group’s disintegration in 1999.

Coming closer to Africa, it was also learnt that in Algeria, guerrilla warfare against the French was begun by the nationalists in 1954 and conducted with ever-increasing violence until Algeria won its independence in 1961.

Greek nationalists in Cyprus carried on guerrilla warfare against the British from 1954 until the country gained independence in 1959. Fidel Castro and Guevara, in 1956, launched a guerrilla war in Cuba against the government of Fulgencio Batista. In 1959, Batista fled the country and Castro assumed control.

This success is believed to have given encouragement to rebel guerrilla bands throughout Latin America. In 1967, Guevara was killed by the Bolivian army, while leading such a rebel band in the jungles of Bolivia.

Israel and Palestine

In the late 1960s, Palestinian Arab guerrillas intensified activities against the state of Israel. In 1971, after a full-scale war with the Jordanian army, they were ousted from their bases in Jordan. But the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) and other groups continued their raids on Israel from other Arab countries. After the PLO was forced to leave Lebanon, its fighters were again dispersed, but it continued to mount attacks until peace negotiations in the early 1990s.

The United States has been accused of sponsoring guerrillas, most notably anti-Castro Cuban forces and Nicaraguan contras.

Advent of ideology guerrilla

Today, it is believed that “urban guerrilla” activities such as, bombing, hijacking and kidnapping, as currently being witnessed in Nigeria, are frequently inspired by ideology, rather than patriotism and are often tinged with elements of terrorism.

Particularly from the 1990s, many nations have experienced some degree of societal disruption due to persistent guerrilla warfare. Among these are Algeria, Burundi, Cambodia, Colombia, Rwanda, Sierra Leone and Turkey (in Kurdish areas) and Libya, among others.

The civil war which started in Angola immediately after the country gained independence from Portugal in November 1975 would last for 27 years. The civil war was primarily a struggle for power between two former liberation movements, the People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) and UNITA.

Each organisation had different roots in the Angolan social fabric and mutually incompatible leaderships, despite their sharing the aim of ending colonial occupation. Although, both the MPLA and UNITA had socialist leanings, for the purpose of mobilising international support, they posed as “Marxist-Leninist” and “anti-communist,” respectively. A third movement, the National Front for the Liberation of Angola (FNLA), having fought the MPLA alongside UNITA during the war for independence and the decolonisation conflict, played almost no role in the civil war. Finally, a Front for the Liberation of the Enclave of Cabinda FLEC, an association of separatist militant groups, fought for the independence of the province of Cabinda from Angola.

In Colombia, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) a revolutionary guerrilla organisation based in Colombia has been involved in armed struggle with the Colombian government since 1964. It was established as a military wing of the Colombian Communist Party after government military forces attacked rural communist enclaves during the aftermath of the violence that rocked Colombia in 1964.

There are different estimates for the organisation’s membership. According to Colombian Armed Forces Commander, Admiral Édgar Cely, FARC had a total of 18,000 members in 2010, with an estimated 9,000 of those being armed combatants and the remaining 9,000 made up of plainclothes militia who provide intelligence or logistical support.

He added that they have been weakened and retreated to mountainous regions since President Álvaro Uribe took office in 2002. Other sources and analysts have reported that FARC’s fighting force is currently estimated to have around 9,000 to 11,200 guerrillas. In 2011, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, claimed FARC may have fewer than 8,000 members while FARC Commander, Raul Reyes, claimed that their force consisted of 18,000 guerrillas.

How to beat guerrilla fighters

Guerrillas can be difficult to beat, but certain principles of counter-insurgency warfare are well known since the 1950s and 1960s and have been successfully applied.

The widely distributed and influential work of Sir Robert Thompson, counter-insurgency expert of the Malayan Emergency, offers several such guidelines. Thompson’s underlying assumption is that of a country minimally committed to the rule of law and better governance.

Some governments, however, give such considerations short shrift, and their counter-insurgency operations have involved mass murder, genocide, starvation and the massive spread of terror, torture and execution. The totalitarian regimes of Hitler are classic examples, as are more modern conflicts in places like Afghanistan.

In the Soviet war in Afghanistan, for example, the Soviets was reported to have countered the Mujahideen with a policy of wastage and depopulation, driving over one-third of the Afghan population into exile (over five million people), and carrying out widespread destruction of villages, granaries, crops, herds and irrigation systems, including the deadly and widespread mining of fields and pastures.

Many modern countries employ man-hunting doctrine to seek out and eliminate individual guerrillas.

Some of Thompson’s moderate approach are outlined as follows:

The people are the key base to be secured and defended, rather than territory won or enemy bodies counted. Contrary to the focus of conventional warfare, territory gained, or casualty counts are not of overriding importance in counter-guerrilla warfare. The support of the population is the key variable. Since many insurgents rely on the population for recruits, food, shelter, financing, and other materials, the counter-insurgent force must focus its efforts on providing physical and economic security for that population and defending it against insurgent attacks and propaganda.

There also must be a clear political counter-vision that can overshadow, match or neutralise the guerrilla vision. This can range from granting political autonomy, to economic development measures in the affected region. The vision must be an integrated approach, involving political, social and economic and media influence measures. A nationalist narrative, for example, might be used in one situation, an ethnic autonomy approach in another. An aggressive media campaign must also be mounted in support of the competing vision or the counter-insurgent regime will appear weak or incompetent.

Thomson also argues that practical action must be taken at the lower levels to match the competitive political vision, contending that it may be tempting for the counter-insurgent side to simply declare guerrillas “terrorists” and pursue a harsh liquidation strategy. Brute force, however, may not be successful in the long run. Action does not mean capitulation, but sincere steps such as removing corrupt or arbitrary officials, cleaning up fraud, building more infrastructure, collecting taxes honestly, or addressing other legitimate grievances can do much to undermine the guerrillas’ appeal.

Also, the counter-insurgent regime must not overreact to guerrilla provocations, since this may, indeed, be what they seek to create a crisis in civilian morale. Indiscriminate use of firepower may only serve to alienate the key focus of counter-insurgency – the base of the people.

He added that police level actions should guide the effort and take place in a clear framework of legality, even if under a State of Emergency. Civil liberties and other customs of peacetime may have to be suspended, but again, the counter-insurgent regime must exercise restraint, and cleave to orderly procedures. In the counter-insurgency context, “boots on the ground” are even more important than technological prowess and massive firepower, although anti-guerrilla forces should take full advantage of modern air, artillery and electronic warfare assets.

Big unit action may sometimes be necessary. If police action is not sufficient to stop the guerrilla fighters, military sweeps may be necessary. Such “big battalion” operations may be needed to break up significant guerrilla concentrations and split them into small groups where combined civic-police action can control them.

Sir Thompson also said mobility and aggressive small unit action are extremely important for the counter-insurgent regime. Heavy formations must be lightened to aggressively locate, pursue and fix insurgent units. Huddling in static strongpoints simply concedes the field to the insurgents. They must be kept on the run constantly with aggressive patrols, raids, ambushes, sweeps, cordons, roadblocks, prisoner snatches, etc.

“In tandem with mobility is the embedding of hardcore counter-insurgent units or troops with local security forces and civilian elements. The US Marines in Vietnam also saw some success with this method, under its CAP (Combined Action Programme) where Marines were teamed as both trainers and “stiffeners” of local elements on the ground. US Special Forces in Vietnam like the Green Berets, also caused significant local problems for their opponents by their leadership and integration with mobile tribal and irregular forces.

“The CIA’s Special Activities Division created successful guerrilla forces from the Hmong tribe during the war in Vietnam in the 1960s from the Northern Alliance against the Taliban during the war in Afghanistan in 2001, and from the Kurdish Peshmerga against Ansar al-Islam and the forces of Saddam Hussein during the war in Iraq in 2003. “In Iraq, the 2007 US “surge” strategy saw the embedding of regular and special forces troops among Iraqi army units. These hardcore groups were also incorporated into local neighborhood outposts in a bid to facilitate intelligence gathering, and to strengthen ground level support among the masses.

“Counter-insurgent forces require familiarity with the local culture, mores and language or they will experience numerous difficulties. Americans experienced this in Vietnam and during the US invasion of Iraqi and occupation, where shortages of Arabic speaking interpreters and translators hindered both civil and military operations. Every effort must be made to gather and organise useful intelligence. A systematic process must be set up to do so, from casual questioning of civilians to structured interrogations of prisoners. Creative measures must also be used, including the use of double agents, or even bogus ‘liberation’ or sympathiser groups that help reveal insurgent personnel or operations.

“An ‘ink spot’ clear and hold strategy must be used by the counter-insurgent regime, dividing the conflict area into sectors, and assigning priorities between them. Control must expand outward like an ink spot on paper, systematically neutralising and eliminating the insurgents in one sector of the grid, before proceeding to the next. It may be necessary to pursue holding or defensive actions elsewhere, while priority areas are cleared and held,” he explained further.

The expert also added that mass forces, including village self-defense groups and citizen militias organised for community defense, can be useful in providing civic mobilisation and local security. Specialist units can be used profitably, including commando squads, long range reconnaissance and ‘hunter-killer’ patrols, defectors who can track or persuade their former colleagues “like the Kit Carson units in Vietnam,” and paramilitary style groups.

He said the limits of foreign assistance must be clearly defined and carefully used. Such aid should be limited either by time, or as to material and technical, and personnel support, or both. While outside aid or even troops can be helpful, lack of clear limits, in terms of either a realistic plan for victory or exit strategy, may find the foreign helper ‘taking over’ the local war, and being sucked into a lengthy commitment, thus providing the guerrillas with valuable propaganda opportunities as the stream of dead foreigners mounts. He said such a scenario occurred with the US in Vietnam, with the American effort creating dependence in South Vietnam, and war weariness and protests back home. Heavy-handed foreign interference, he noted, might also fail to operate effectively within the local cultural context, setting up conditions for failure.

“A key factor in guerrilla strategy is a drawn-out, protracted conflict that wears down the will of the opposing counter-insurgent forces. Democracies are especially vulnerable to the factor of time. The counter-insurgent force must allow enough time to get the job done. Impatient demands for victory centered around short-term electoral cycles play into the hands of the guerrillas, though it is equally important to recognise when a cause is lost and the guerrillas have won.

“Some writers on counter-insurgency warfare emphasise the more turbulent nature of today’s guerrilla warfare environment, where the clear political goals, parties and structures of such places as Vietnam, Malaysia, or El Salvador are not as prevalent. These writers point to numerous guerrilla conflicts that center around religious, ethnic or even criminal enterprise themes, and that do not lend themselves to the classic ‘national liberation’ template.

“The wide availability of the Internet has also caused changes in the tempo and mode of guerrilla operations in such areas as coordination of strikes, leveraging of financing, recruitment, and media manipulation. While the classic guidelines still apply, today’s anti-guerrilla forces need to accept a more disruptive, disorderly and ambiguous mode of operation.

“Insurgents may not be seeking to overthrow the state, may have no coherent strategy or may pursue a faith-based approach difficult to counter with traditional methods. There may be numerous competing insurgencies in one theater, meaning that the counterinsurgent must control the overall environment rather than defeat a specific enemy. The actions of individuals and the propaganda effect of a subjective ‘single narrative’ may far outweigh practical progress, rendering counterinsurgency even more non-linear and unpredictable than before. The counterinsurgent, not the insurgent, may initiate the conflict and represent the forces of revolutionary change. The economic relationship between insurgent and population may be diametrically opposed to classical theory. And insurgent tactics, based on exploiting the propaganda effects of urban bombing, may invalidate some classical tactics and render others, like patrolling, counterproductive under some circumstances. Thus, field evidence suggests, classical theory is necessary, but not sufficient for success against contemporary insurgencies,” he added.

Many Nigerians who understand the danger posed by the Boko Haram menace have been expressing a lot of fear that it has assumed a most dangerous dimension and the Federal Government needs to fight it appropriately.

The Rest @ The Tribune (Nigeria)

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